Nick Rico now batting in a higher league

March 30, 2015

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Every city has a Rico and we just lost ours.

Nick Rico was one of those guys you see in every major North American city, an old sandlotter who hung around long after his glory days to play it forward with the next generation of baseball nuts. I was just one of the many whose lives Nicky touched and it had hardly anything to do with baseball.
Two years ago a bunch of us got together to thank “the Reek” for his friendship. I lied to him and told him that a bunch of old ball players were getting together at the Canadiana, a west end banquet joint. He had no idea it was about him.That’s the kind of man Nick was. But I knew from our friendship that the shadows were lengthening for him and in Arthur Miller’s words, ”attention,attention must be paid to such a person.” We needed to thank Nick personally. and so the old players came out in droves to thank the lovely man.
Some were there whom Nick had tutored on their way to pro ball, others were there simply because Nicky was one of the nicest guys on the planet, man always ready to help, a guy who never took himself too seriously, who hated humbug of any type and whose values were rock solid.
There were a special few, people like myself Bobby Miwa, Joe Sawchuk who really knew the talent of Nick Rico.
When he had returned from his 5 years in pro ball, he naturally gravitated to the man who had impacted many of us, one of the first inductees into the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame, Carmen Bush. Known alternatively as “the Dictator”, “the Brain”, “the Baron of the Pits”, the “Sage of Bellwoods” Carm had given his life to kids in a ramshackle old club in little Italy near where the Rico family near Trinity-bellwoods Park. Nicky was just one of the many beneficiaries who lucked out when they played for Carmen and Columbus Boys Club.

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Having a cat bird’s seat on Carm’s life I knew that he literally never made more than $10,000 a year and supplemented his meagre income by refereeing and umpiring. Hard to believe but the Knights of Columbus got Carm cheap. And 15 years after he had retired at a celebration of a 1944 Juvenile hockey team the Grand Knight showed up with some “guilt money” and ponied up another grand for their former employee. A man of tremendous integrity who turned down lucrative offers of his “gumbah” the Italian realtor Sam Sorbara to “stay with his little Wops” at the Club. So Nicky came home to Carm. Many of course came “home to Carm” including myself and young priest-to-be whom Carm introduce me to t in 1960,Tom McKIllop.
After 5 years chasing his baseball dream in towns like Bristol,Conn, Gastonia, Georgia, Mooresville, North Carolina, Lawton,Oklahoma, Ogden,Utah Nick landed back in his hometown ‘working the debit” in insurance and selling pasta for Primo. At this time we were playing for Carm and there was Nicky at the nightly post-mortems regaling us with his hilarious stories of life in the minors.
We would watch him playing third base and pitching for Clintons in the senior league while we were juveniles and juniors. We never saw anything like him.Yes he actually did bounce a ball off the clubhouse roof in straight centrefield about 450 feet from home plate. We never had seen a hitter like Nick. He would just laugh.”after pro ball, Ted it’s like hitting change ups all game long.’
Then he became our coach as we moved into senior ball but for years it was simply the bull sessions, the post mortems which remain. Our peerless leader Carmen Bush had set the festive board for all of us including “Niccolo” whom he loved as a son. Carm made us realize that the game is simply the place where we meet as fellow humans in relationship; that the post-mortem was just as important as the score board , that friendships crafted between foul lines were the really important things.
We never lost touch. Many of us stopped coaching but not Nicky. He would answer any call to help a young player including the Toronto born National League MVP Joey Votto. It turns out many of us unconsciously had taken Polonius advice in the Bard’s Hamlet
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

We could never let Nicky go.We knew where he hung out at High Seas Fish and Chips on Islington Ave. We came regularly to bask in the warmth of his smile.Nicky washed dishes there but just as often he was the maitre d’ of an old timers’ reunion. High Seas had become the terminus of a secular pilgrimage, an urban monastery where friendship was the raison d’etre. I remember bringing Fungo Joe Irvine and Tom McKillop out to see Nicky, friends who went back to the old Viaduct League of 1950—and McKillop had the pictures to prove it.

And then that night in December 2012 when we came to thank Nick.He had no idea that it was about him because it was never about him. In his extemporaneous remarks all he could talk about was his debt to Carmen.”Nobody he met in all of baseball could compare with him.’
A few days before he died we talked. Typical Nick.No complaints. Lotta weight loss and pretty weak, then the inevitable decline. Over the years we would often would talk about Carmen and how we missed him. Now, Nick has gone as well “to the higher league”, a true ikon of the Columbus Boys Club simple motto: “the other guy.”

Nick will be buried on Holy Thursday.Something appropriate about this.

The most dangerous man in Israel

March 25, 2015

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The most dangerous man in Israel, journalist Gideon Levy a man despised by most of his fellow citizens came to Toronto last night.

Two things came to mind.

First, Levy was warmly welcomed by the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral Douglas Stoute. He seemed to understand that even in the heart of Anglican Toronto, a biblical prophet was among us, a man struggling valiantly for peace in the Holy Land. The cathedral fundamentally exists to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of the most dangerous man in Palestine, Yeshua ben Miriam or as he is known to us by his Latinized name Jesus of Nazareth.

Even the most established church in Canada which celebrated the funeral of Tory Finance Minister James Flaherty, saw that it was right and fitting to provide a listening post for another brave Jew who is speaking truth to power in Israel.

Secondly, there was the absence of any fellow Jews to listen to Levy. This was very troubling. So inward looking and so defensive has diaspora Judaism become that it dared not open a major synagogue for him to challenge their ongoing blindness and failure to live up to the call for prophetic biblical witness. The silence of the synagogues over Palestinian oppression is staggering.

Contemporary Judaism desperately longs for the voices of prophetic men like Maurice Eisendrath, a towering American Reform rabbi who served Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple from 1929 to 1943 and dove into ecumenical and social justice work while he was here. “Nobody slept during his tenure,”wrote another rabbi, “for he was a disturber of sleep who brought discomfort to the comfortable.”

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Eisendrath was followed by another “dangerous” man Abraham Feinberg (1943-1961) who championed radical causes and anti-war work. And then there was Reuben Slonim,the brilliant Conservative rabbi(d 2000) who was shunned as an Arab Lover for his criticism of Israel

Saddest of all for Catholics was the fact that our cathedral could never open its hermetically sealed (to the prophetic) doors to a man like Gideon Levy. As per usual no putative Catholic leaders were present last night.Catholics of course are used to this non-presence of institutional leaders.

Pope Francis has challenged what he believes is the Church’s fundamental illness: ecclesiastical narcissism.
“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” he said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” And irrelevant he might add.

It was Johann Baptist Metz who reminded us that danger is a fundamental category for understanding the life and message of Jesus. Only in the face of this danger does the vision of the kingdom of God that has come near in him light up…the lightening bolt of danger lights up the whole biblical landscape especially the New testament scene.Danger and being in danger permeate every New Testament statement…thus the discipleship stories are not entertaining but stories in the face of danger, dangerous stories.

Fr.Metz went on to say “in bewilderment and mourning” when we lose “the dangerous memory of Jesus” we end up with a bourgeois domestic religion.’

And that’s where we are today, safe in the church and not in the streets, a danger to nobody and no threat to the unjust status quo..

Amazingly the cathedral was packed to hear this “dangerous man” who calls himself a true Israeli patriot sent to wake up his smug countrymen, comfortable with occupation and morally obtuse and apathetic.

The change in Israel needs to come from pressure from the outside. Alluding to his ecclesial surroundings he reminded us that miracles do happen.And as Christians move into holy week once again we are reminded that there is no Easter without Good Friday

Oscar Romero at 10

March 23, 2015

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25 years ago today  Paul Hansen Redemptorist priest and myself penned an article (March 23,1990) in the Globe and Mail.We pointed out that the Salvadoran bishop Oscar Romero who broke with the oligarchy and the rest of his brother bishops was also snubbed by the Bishop of Rome,John Paul ll.It was reported that on the day of his as assassination 25 years ago tomorrow, Romero’s dismissal as archbishop was on John Paul ll’s desk.

Romero now on his way to beatification was humiliated by the then pope, a man of blinkered vision when it came to Latin America. Reputedly it was the one thing he regretted. Romero had come to rome to plead his case and was made to wait outside the pontiff’s office. He never did get to see him.

Meanwhile for the people Romero had already been canonized for his prophetic stance against the cowboy capitalism of the USA.
As we stated in our article “For decades Washington had supported local oligarchs Somoza of Nicaragua, Pinochet of Chile, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic all who had turned their backs on los pobres de la tierra.They had become mere satraps of the dominant centre.” The Polish pope never understood why some of the better US bishops were critical of Reagan’s America. Once he queried Cardinal Bernadin asking, “Why do you not support your president”.At that time Rome and Washington were at war with the USSR.But Washington was making war on Latin America.
Earlier in the decade Cardinal Ratzinger had come out against liberation theology, suggesting it was pure Marxism.The great Latino bishops convinced JP ll he was dead wrong and to the pope’s credit in 1985 when he was taken aside by the men closest to “smell of the sheep” he declared that liberation theology was not only useful but necessary.
We asked “Has the pope learned anything from this?” It was dubious given the brutal papal appointments through the southern cone, men who had little credibility but who adopted the harsh Roman line.
We pointed out that Vatican “has closed seminaries which champion close association with communities,imposed traditionalist bishops with whom they could not work,denigrated the prophetic work of Dom Helder Camara and Paiulo Evaristo Arns,towering churchmen and fierce defenders of the marginalized.As one prelate said,’for us the vatican is but a sect within the church”.

We went on to state that “a parallel church was emerging which increasingly distances itself from the hopes and joys of the world which Vatican ll encouraged us to serve.Instead of leaven in the dough the church is becoming a loaf unto itself,preoccupied with internal concerns, obsessed with power and discipline rather than love and service. Brazilian bishop Mauro Morelli described the Vatican as “neurotics for orthodoxy.”

We went on to criticize the pope for “the heavy handed imposition of Romanized clerics as bishops who brook no dissent,his harassment of theologians and prophetic bishops made us ponder the words of the 1971 synod,’anyone who wishes to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes.hence, we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting found within the church itself.
We concluded that “the death of Oscar Romero was a watershed for the modern Catholic Church.It signifies the permanence of justice and peace as the church’s agenda.It speaks to us of the church as servant not master,as a sign of the kingdom yet not the kingdom.It reminds us that convertsion is possible,that the final word, for the Chruistian is love not power.
As believers in the sensus fidelium, the wisdom of the baptized, we understood that the base church was way ahead of the hierarchs.

Romero had been proscribed by both Ratzinger and John Paul ll only to be rehabilitated by the present pope who saw Romero for what he was, an authentic voice of the humiliated people and a saint for our times.
Many clerics of that time did not dare to raise the life of Romero up.He was not ‘in season” in a time of reactionary papacies. Rather than being adorned with “the smell of the sheep” the Romanized yes men acted like sheep and became idolators of the papacy.
Today we give thanks for a Vatican ll pope who sees the church like Romero as a field hospital after battle. rather than seeing Vatican ll as a grave error that must be corrrected Francis like Romero sees the Church as committed to the poor.This is not Marx, it is Jesus.

Netanyahu the ultimate cynic

March 22, 2015

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Netanyahu’s cynical ploy on election day, when he warned in a personal message on his Facebook page of “droves of Arabs” descending on the polls was beyond the pale. He is justifiably being mocked by far and wideKatie Halper “translated” Netanyahu’s racist emergency election appeal to get out the vote. Titled “An American Translation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s own words.
You’ll feel you are in Mississippi in 1960.
The only changes we are replacing:
“Arab” with “Black”
“right wing” with “Republican”
“Likud” with “Republican”
“Labor” with “Democrats”
“Israel” with “United States”
The alarmingly racist appeal has been cited as being responsible for a surge in the polls for Likud. Let’s watch the video:
The Republican leadership is in danger.
Black voters are coming out in droves to the polls
Left wing organizations are busing them out.
Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Republican in order to close the gap between us and the Democrats.
With your help and the help of God,
We will build a nationalist government that will protect the United States of America.

This is astonishing from a Prime minister in “the only democracy in the Middle Est.’Even the Tea Party would not utter some thinly coated racism.

Israel’s leadership for 20 years or more has been simply catastrophic.Its great ability in the use of hasbara (propaganda) would put Stephen Harper to shame.Netanyahu ranks as the most cynical leader you will ever meet but the hasbara to the shame of diaspora Jews has been enough for them to support this colonial,racist state.

Many knew Netanyahu was lying after OSLO.he has always been a “maximalist” of stealing more Palestinian land.This was no secret to people who follow Israeli politics.This man has never been committed to 2 state, an impossibility with 350,000 Jews living in the West bank.

Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator nailed it when he said

The Israeli elections show the success of a campaign platform based on settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people. Such a result would not have been possible had the international community held Israel to account for its systematic violations of international law

But you won’t find Erekat’s quote anywhere but here.

Uppity Irish woman challenges Pope Francis

March 17, 2015

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Pope Francis is holding women back due to misogyny, former Irish president Mary McAleese has warned.

Pope Francis has been very vocal about the baptized speaking candidly both in an out of synods. For the time being it appears that the sycophants are out of step.In Canada we have one notorious priest known as the chameleon who now has reinvented himself to be on the same wave length as the Pope.Previously he was a cheerleader for conservative reaction to Vatican ll.But I digress.

Reminded me of W.H.Auden’s Unknown Citizen

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content


That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;


When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
Recently the very bright former president of Ireland Mary Mcaleese took Pope Francis to the woodshed and called him out on his regressive attitude to women.

Pope Francis is holding women back due to misogyny, she warned.

She referred to his “blindness hat comes from a kind of a priestly formation that leaves so many good, decent, gentlemanly men like Francis still carrying an element, a residual element, of misogyny that closes them off to the dangers of not dealing with these issues,”.

Dead on.

Francis seems blinkered or rather chained to an outmoded but understandable protocol about not contradicting former popes ,the last two being particularly blind to women’s equality within the church, the right to aspire to every role that males enjoy—and that means priesthood.

McAleese like many is sympathetic to the pontiff.He is trying to reverse the reactionary retreat from Vatican ll by the previous two. he knows his time is short but he seems stuck on the female question.
“I don’t think that he gets it. Still. He’s very gentlemanly, he’s a lovely person, everybody likes him and women like him. We love his smile, we love his openness, we love his accessibility, we love his frankness, we love the ease of him. But we also know that that’s not enough.”

Mcaleese focused on the structural problems of a huge church.

“I’m talking about an altogether different phenomenon and that is the structure of a universal Church that comprises 1.2bn people, half of whom are women, and who do not have appropriate vehicles at parish, diocesan or universal level that fully respect the role they play in the Church or could play in the Church,”

Can you hear so many audibly groaning at the candor of this uppity woman? Get used to it.

McAleese previously caused a stir by stating that “a very large number” of Catholic priests are gay and the Church is in denial about the fact. “It isn’t so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants.”

Catholic Teachers Justice Winners “kettled” at AGM

March 16, 2015

Guest editorial

by Giuseppe Spadafora

Toronto Putz

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Table 15 “kettled” Gary Connoly, Ted Schmidt, Bill Heffernan, Dwyer Sullivan

(picture David Szollosy)

In a shocking move reporters called “kettling” honored social justice award winners of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association were literally” kettled” at separate table 15 at the organization’s AGM banquet on Sunday March 15
This was vigorously denied by outgoing president Shlomo Ryan.
“No truth to the rumour that we wanted to keep you apart from the young membership,” Ryan averred.
He was challenged by Gary Connoly, last year’s winner of the highest OECTA Award the Marion Tyrrel Award who pointed out that former OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer was placed next to Schmidt at the table. A former student of Schmidt a 1991 Tyrrel Award recipient, O’Dwyer became notorious for resisting ecclesial pressure and allowing Catholic schools to call gay lesbian clubs by whatever name they wished.
2006 Tyrrel Award winner Dwyer Sullivan challenged Shlomo Ryan.
“Come on,Ryan. You know you took the “kettling” playbook from the Israeli Defense Force who has trained several US police forces in the art of penning people up under surveillance. We saw this just recently in Feguson, Missouri. Your strategy was obvious to all of us.”
Billy Heffernan the Fintan Kilbride Award for social justice in 2014 added “The shocking to us kettlers was to see most of the award winners were not classroom teachers and that nobody was nominated this year for the Kilbride Award. Are there no teachers challenging the system anymore?”
The final proof that the social justice winners were segregated was that 2013 Kilbride Award winner David Szollosy rushed over to take this picture.
Finally Ryan vigorously denied that the Cardinal raced from the banquet when Jeff Heximer a retired OECTA negotiator mentioned Ted and Don Schmidt in his remarks.
Overall the “kettling” incident was a step backward for the Catholic teachers of Ontario.

Bishop asks collar-wearing clergy to rally at city meeting

March 15, 2015

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So says the headline in the National Catholic Reporter

KANSAS CITY, MO. The bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who hopes to raze a former parish school and build a faith-based dormitory on that ground, has invited all the priests and deacons of his diocese to appear at a city planning meeting to show support for his plan.

“If you attend it would certainly be appropriate for you to wear your collar,” Bishop Robert Finn tells the clergy in a letter dated March 13 and sent as an attachment to emails on Friday.

OK, I have no problem with this but come on, Bishop Finn and the many like you.Get in the justice parade, brother.

It’s always said about the Roman church,if  it’s not leading the parade it’s not in it.always wanting control not solidarity.

Do you ask your priests to don their collars on serious social issues? Hardly. You are absent on these major issues…much like most of the JPll/Ratzinger bishops who seemed obsessed with pelvic orthodoxy.

These men appear to have no understanding of “kingdom “politics,the imperative to promote social justice in the world.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine has correctly stated

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, climate change is about our faith, our theology, our moral identity, and our calling as God’s children. Climate change is not another issue to move higher up the list of our concerns. Rather it is the concern central to all other issues.

So priests, put those Roman collars and join ordinary folks in remediating “the blood stained face of history” (Camus)

Diane Nash refuses to march if Bush is in the parade

March 13, 2015

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Diane Nash marching in Nashville as 21 year old student

One notable civil rights activist who did not take part in this weekend’s commemorative march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was Diane Nash, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). What a formidable,brave woman. As a college student she was on the front lines against segregation.There she was 50 years later all set to commemorate the historic march.and then she saw him,George W Bush in the march.That was it for Nash

She refused to march because George Bush marched,“I think the Selma movement was about non-violence and peace and democracy. And George Bush stands for just the opposite: For violence and war and stolen elections, and his administration … had people tortured. I’m also concerned that the legacy of the Selma movement, which stands for non-violence, will be confused. And so I did not wish to be a part of something that included him,” she added.

The understatement of the year from the classy Nash:

The veteran justice campaigner also gave some excellent advice:

“It is a huge mistake for Americans to leave the future of this country in the hands of elected officials. … Suppose we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters, buses, and to get the right to vote. I think 50 years later we would still be waiting.”

Amen—that’s why Jesus never waited for the Sanhedrin’s permission either.Justice always begins close to the ground where people feel the pain.
So I thought that this was not an appropriate event for him,” she added.

Nice photo op for Bush. Thankfully somebody had the guts to call him on his unwanted and unmerited presence.

Dual loyalties Israel and US

March 12, 2015

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American Jews have always been sensitive about “dual loyalties”. They want to be be seen as loyal to the US but many go overboard and support Israel no matter what. Jews used to ask the fundamental question: is this good for Jews. The question should be what country are you a citizen of.

American Jews increasingly are asking is this good for America’s place in the world. The answer of course is no. Because of the unblinkered support for Israel America is despised in the Arab world. Many sensitive American Jews get this and latterly have become aware of the issue of “dual loyalties.” They realized that the price of citizenship is exclusive allegiance. Now what about the terrible influence AIPAC has on US foreign policy.Is AIPAC working on behalf of a foreign government? I believe so, Many in the US government have had very close ties with Israel and they exert their influence in this direction.
Remember the shocking case of the racist dual citizen Meir Kahane, who founded theJewish Defense League in the U.S. in the 1960s. He then emigrated to Israel where, eventually, he was elected to the Knesset. Until he was shot and killed in 1990, the Brooklyn-born rabbi shuttled between Tel Aviv and New York, where he recruited militant American Jews for his activities in Israel against Palestinians. He claimed to be a “dual citizen” of America and Israel.
Now it has come to light that More than 90 percent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection funds have come from the United States

Of the total contributions of nearly $259,000 — slightly over 1 million shekels — about $237,000 came from American donors, according to records made public by Israel’s State Comptroller.

Three wealthy families donated about half the amount from the Americans.

Israeli politicians may accept a maximum donation of about $11,500. The three families are the Falics of Florida, owners of the Duty Free Americas stores found in airports; the Books of New Jersey, owners of Jet Support Services, Inc.; and the Schottensteins of Ohio, owners of the American Eagle clothing chain.

Others who donated the maximum amount included Shlomo Reichnitz of Los Angeles, Richard Heideman of Bethesda, Maryland, David Simon of Indiana and John Kruger of New Jersey, according to the comptroller’s records.Most of the donations came in the last two months of 2014.

Selma 50 years after Part 1

March 11, 2015

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I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection…with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all names that the races and nations shout…we are indelibly and unspeakably one.
Jonathan Daniels

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama was quite moving. In the land of amnesia both here and in the USA, it was fitting to remind people of the ongoing struggle for justice. This is a struggle which has to be won over and over again.
President Obama was there to salute one of his heroes John Lewis whom I will write about in a later post.

Let me say upfront this was a time of testing for the Christian church and it was the black church which would hear and live the gospel call.
Between February and August of 1964, four civil rights activists were killed in Alabama: Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, Rev. James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels.

Interesting that James Reeb and Jonathan Daniels were both Christian ministers who heard the call for racial justice and responded..At the same time rabbi Heschel who was there told the synagogue to put the Torah down and start praying with their feet.

it was a bracing time for authentic religion.

Both stories, Reeb’s and Daniel’s are powerful testaments to faith.

Jonathan Daniels was a 26 year old white Episcopalian minister from Keane, New Hampshire who lived with black families in Alabama. He had gone to Lowndes County trying to register blacks to vote. First he was jailed. They let him out of jail with 3 others, Father Richard Morrisroe a Catholic priest from Chicago, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales. They went to Varner’s Cash Store in Hayneville, one of the few stores that would serve blacks.There they were met by a man Thomas Coleman with a shotgun who said that he was not going to serve any blacks or Nigger lovers in his store. Daniels was killed and Fr.Morrisroe was critically wounded and the shooter Coleman was naturally acquitted and later bragged,”I just shot two preachers”—meaning white preachers, apparently traitors to their race. Southern justice.

Daniels was designated a church martyr and added to the episcopal calendar of lesser saints.

The notorious cracker sheriff Jim Clark said of Daniels “You are here to cause trouble; that’s what you’re doing. You don’t live here. You are an agitator, and that’s the lowest form of humanity” .

That’s what Christians do—cause holy trouble in the cause of greater justice.

Nice to see that 50 years later Jonathan Daniels was not forgotten.

What seems to be forgotten by the last generation of seminarians was the summons to the cross. Few ever seemed to have in Pope Francis’ words “the smell of the sheep on them.” Nor did many of their leaders.

Joanthan Daniels, presente

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